Recently Shabir Ally posted the following as part of his response to our debate in Seattle:
Did Jesus Really Say, “Do this in remembrance of me!”?
These words are attributed to Jesus in the Bible in Luke’s Gospel 22:19b-20: “Do this in remembrance of me!” In this way, we learn, Jesus instituted the regular observance of the Eucharist, the use of bread to symbolize the eating of Jesus’ flesh; and wine to symbolize the drinking of his blood. I pointed out in the debate that these words are missing from some very important early manuscripts, and for this reason many scholars deem it a later addition. Hence this cannot be taken as a reliable proof that Jesus said these words.
James seems to have forgotten what the point was. On DL he asserts that I reject these words simply because they disagree with Quranic teaching. He then uses this as a starting point to launch an attack on the prophet Muhammad. But I think it is important that we do not become side-tracked. These problems exist apart from Muhammad and the Quran. If I reject the words on the basis that they disagree with Islam, on what basis do many Christian scholars reject them? And on what basis were they removed from the 1952 edition of the Revised Standard Version of the Bible?
Last Thursday on the DL I mentioned that I wanted to listen to the recording of the debate to hear what Shabir had actually said at this point in the debate. My recollection was that he had said that “scholars feel this is a later addition,” which I took to be an assertion of redaction criticism, i.e., a claim without documentary evidence to back it up. I did not recall Shabir saying “this is a textual variant in the Greek texts, and some reject the reading as it appears in the printed Greek texts.” I would have immediately responded to that claim by grabbing my critical Greek text and checking the manuscript evidence. Though Rich hasn’t been able to get me the audio of the debate quite yet (we are both digging out from under the backlog that develops when either of us is away from the office for any length of time at all), one of those in attendance had an mp3 recorder going. The sound is a little muffled and very bassy, but I believe this is an accurate transcription of the comment made by Shabir about 58 minutes into the debate:
But that saying in Luke’s gospel where He says do this always in remembrance of me is thought by many scholars to be a later addition into the gospel according to Luke. And if it is a later addition into the gospel according to Luke, then we must ask, “Where did it come from?” It actually comes from one of the letters of Paul. Paul was the first person to have said this. And so you see where the inference (evidence?) is going. Paul say something, and now we are trying to put it into the gospel to make sure that in fact Jesus said it.
Now, Shabir Ally has a tendency to use the phrase “thought by many scholars” as a catch-phrase for almost anything he has found in his reading and research. So, he can say that “scholars” view the Gospel of Thomas as earlier than the Gospel of Mark, when, in fact, he is referring to a single scholar, a liberal professor at Boston College, who believes that certain sayings in Thomas predate Mark. The vast majority of scholarship sees Thomas, as a literary work, being much later than Mark, but, that one phrase “scholars think” or “scholars have discovered” can cover a whole lot of less-than-compelling documentation. Now normally when Shabir talks about “scholars” concluding that such-and-such a text is a “later addition” he is referring to the fact that some scholars treat the text of the NT as a jig-saw puzzle, freely deciding that any texts that do not fit into their own personal paradigm of what they think the early church would have written can be dismissed as a “later addition” without a scintilla of physical or even literary evidence. This is how I took his comments above, and since he never mentioned the key concept of “textual variant,” I responded to that assertion. He did not point out that there is a textual variant in the manuscripts, so I can only reply to the assertions as they are made.
Surely, had Mr. Ally noted the textual variant, I would have gladly addressed the topic. As I mentioned on the DL, I would have jumped at the opportunity to address something that actually smacks of factuality, something you can dig your teeth into, rather than “Well, this one scholar has this theory, see, and based on this one person’s theory, then, we can assume that this book went through this many permutations, though, of course, we don’t have any evidence of this historically, but, still, this scholar had a paper published at a symposium for coming up with this theory, and so…” type of “scholarship.” You eventually become tired of this scenario:
“Where does the NT teach this?
“That passage was added later.”
So let us take a look at the assertion that Jesus never said “do this in remembrance of me,” but that, instead, this is the creation of Paul.
First, what would we have to believe for Mr. Ally’s theory to hold true? Few have yet come to realize that the recent re-statement of what had been a historically understood reality–specifically, the presence of eyewitnesses in the Christian community for decades on end, and in a wider locality than just the environs of Jerusalem–by Richard Bauckham has a wide impact in the apologetic area as well. The theories that present the early church as a hive of redaction critics producing numerous “versions” of the stories of Jesus is simply naive, despite how often it is repeated in modern Western academia. Aside from the fact that the persecution of the early Christians hardly produces a context in which such editorial activity is a likelihood, the fact is that the core of Jesus’ words was the common property of the entire community, and not just in one location, either. Just as the purposeful emendation of a written manuscript leaves evidence of when compared with other manuscripts, so too the redaction of the “oral tradition” of teaching that can be seen in Acts would produce conflict with the continuing ministry of eyewitnesses all through the apostolic period. The idea that someone could just come along and willy-nilly change the very substance of such things as the institution of the Lord’s Supper flies in the face of the existence of this shared, core message, supported by multiple witnesses. It presents a mythical early church where there is no community, no shared confession of faith, and no one with the discernment to say, “Wait, that is not what we have believed, that is not what the apostles of Jesus taught.”
So, to hold Shabir’s view, we would have to once again accept the idea that the early followers of Jesus were so cowardly, so weak, so without commitment, that an evil, scheming Jewish rabbi named Saul could come along and completely destroy the nascent Christian movement. He could pervert it from its true Muslim nature to something completely different, so much so that Paul could lead literally billions astray, causing them to commit shirk, the very sin of idolatry! And that in the midst of this take-over, somehow Paul could alter the very words of Jesus Himself in the inauguration of the most primitive Christian celebration, the Eucharist, the Supper! Imagine that! And somehow, no one said a word about it. Or, at least, if they did, somehow Paul managed to suppress their words, too!
So we move from the highly speculative to the fact that there is, indeed, a textual issue to be addressed regarding Luke 22:19-20. And on the simple textual critical level, Shabir Ally is correct: there are scholars who would question the originality of the text due to “parallel corruption,” i.e., the influence of 1 Corinthians 11:24-25. However, it should be immediately pointed out that the form of the text found in, say, the NA27 and in almost all English translations is that which is found in all Greek manuscripts (except D) and most of the ancient versions. In almost all instances this overwhelming manuscript concensus would be sufficient to conclude the issue. 19b-20 is missing primarily in Latin (i.e., Western) versions, and D is notorious as a Greek/Latin manuscript for having, to put it mildly, odd readings (its exemplars were obviously not exactly mainstream, and just how much one language influenced the other is obviously difficult to determine). But since Luke stands alone in providing the words “do this in remembrance of Me” in the Synoptics, focus has been put upon this text. However, I think it is important to note that the only clear relevance to our debate was with reference to the phrase “do this in remembrance of Me.” In fact, look at the parallel texts in Matthew and Mark:
Matthew 26:26-29 While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” 27 And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; 28 for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. 29 “But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.”
Mark 14:22-25 While they were eating, He took some bread, and after a blessing He broke it, and gave it to them, and said, “Take it; this is My body.” 23 And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, and they all drank from it. 24 And He said to them, “This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. 25 “Truly I say to you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”
It is very, very obvious that this is sacrificial language, the very language that Shabir Ally has to cast back upon the Apostle Paul, asserting that even a source as early as Mark is in fact corrupted by Paul’s influence. So if that is his explanation for this sacrificial language in Matthew and Mark, why even bother trying to make the case that the phrase tou/to poiei/te eivj th.n evmh.n avna,mnhsinÅ (“this do in remembrance of Me”) is based upon Paul? Isn’t all of the sacrificial language due to Paul in the first place, according to his theory? Why even focus upon this singular phrase? What is its over-all relevance, given that in reality, what Shabir needs to do is prove his allegation of gross corruption on Paul’s part, and the complicit acceptance of Paul’s authority by Matthew, Mark, and Luke?
To the right I have reproduced the text of Codex Bezae Cantabrigiensis, i.e., Codex D, the only Greek manuscript lacking the reference to doing remembrance of Christ in Luke 22. This image is taken from Scrivener’s transcription of the manuscript. My translation of the relevant portion follows:
And when He had taken bread and given thanks He broke it and gave it to them saying, “This is My body. But behold the hand of the one betraying Me is upon the table.”
Now, what is odd is that the text as it stands in D is very awkward. Plh.n ivdou., where D picks up again in line with the rest of the Greek manuscript tradition, simply doesn’t fit where it stands in D without the preceding text to give it context. Even in English translation the break between “This is My body” and “But behold…” is jarring. When a single manuscript goes out on its own like this, it is far more likely it is either a glaring scribal omission, or, it is being influenced by something else (in this case, the Latin text). Further it is not simply the phrase tou/to poiei/te eivj th.n evmh.n avna,mnhsinÅ (“this do in remembrance of Me”) that is omitted in D and the Latin families, and the rest of what is missing has parallel in Matthew and Mark; that is, it is not merely from Paul in 1 Corinthians 11. So while the possibility of parallel corruption must be kept in mind and examined, the fact that D’s break includes material not found in Paul alone has to be acknowledged as well.
So what was Mr. Ally’s point? He insisted that the first person to say the words “Do this in remembrance of Me” was Paul. The context would then be, “not Jesus.” Assumption? Paul is an innovator, an evil corrupter of the truth about Jesus. Yes, I know, Mr. Ally may wish to be less strident in his terminology than, say, an Ali Ataie would be, but let’s face the facts. If Paul is putting words in Jesus’ mouth that from the Islamic perspective spawn idolatry (شرك, shirk) and cause people to move away from the true worship of Allah, how can Paul be described as anything other than evil? So, if something is found in the New Testament, and it can in any way be connected to Paul, Mr. Ally’s perspective is that it must be rejected. Given that he acknowledges Paul’s writings to be the earliest in the NT, then it follows that anything he finds in the NT that contradicts his Islamic beliefs can be traced back to Paul and thereby rejected. It is any wonder, then, that he concludes that the only things in the NT that are still inspired are those that agree with Islam? And does it not follow inevitably then that he will interpret the NT in the most contradictory, fragmentary way, again because of Islamic Anachronistic Eisegesis, reading the NT through the lens of the Qur’an? This is surely the case.
The fact of the matter is that there is every reason to see that in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians he is, in fact, passing on to them what had been passed on to him in his instruction by the early days of his conversion and in his visitation with Peter and the Apostles in Jerusalem. Just as Paul did not “invent” the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:1-5), but was passing on the most primitive core of the Christian gospel which preceded him in the faith and which was the common possession of all believers, so too he was simply passing on that which had been entrusted to him (VEgw. ga.r pare,labon avpo. tou/ kuri,ou( o] kai. pare,dwka u`mi/n( “for I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you” may mean this was part of a divine revelation, but could just as easily mean that he received this tradition “from the Lord,” i.e., it had its origin in the Lord’s words, but without precluding the mechanism of it being passed on to him from the Apostles) and which was likewise the common possession of the faithful. Once the assumption is made that we are free to chop the NT text up in any way we see fit to make it amenable to our pet theories, the sky is the limit (as modern scholarly writings demonstrate). But let it not be forgotten that one does not have to buy into such flights of fancy. One can maintain one’s intellectual integrity and continue to treat the ancient texts with the respect that is due to them.